Alan Greenspan, Declawed

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NEW YORK: With the Fed meeting in 12 days to decide whether to ratchet up short-term interest rates and put the brakes on the economy, the jittery U.S. markets -- not to mention private investors -- are once again hanging on Alan Greenspan's every word. But for all of Greenspan's power, the decision has already been made for him.

What was the focus of the Fed chairman's speech Thursday in Chicago? Asia, Asia, Asia. The doldrums of that troubled region -- and its ripple effects on the U.S. economy -- have become the subject of almost all of Greenspan's public statements. And Asia will be the dominant factor in the Fed's May 19 decision.

"The Fed is in a bind," says TIME Business reporter Bernie Baumohl. "Even if it wanted to, raising rates now would tie up U.S. capital that Asia desperately needs for its recovery. Greenspan won't risk a catastrophe." So call your broker, and tell him not to worry.